The Tolerant vs Intolerant Debate in India

The raging “debate” over tolerance and intolerance in India made very little sense to me till a few days ago. I was trying my best to keep my personal opinion to myself, but a short business trip to India last week changed my mind. Sitting so far away from the daily realities of a vast and diverse country like India and with only a mostly sensationalist and TRP hungry media to rely upon for “news”, one tends to lose the social connect that is necessary to form an informed opinion about something as complex, especially in my case, because I had not been to India in more than one and a half years and I’ve lived outside the country for almost 15 years.

Last week, I traveled to India with a Japanese business delegation with the objective of showing them what India was all about and how the two countries could collaborate with and learn from each other. During this visit (covering Delhi, Pune and Mumbai), I was able to get a better perspective on what actually is going on in India. We treated the delegation to a 15 minute cycle rickshaw ride through old Delhi and what impressed everyone was how people from all walks of life and belonging to a wide array of socio-economic and relgious backgrounds lived and worked together in perfect harmony in a relatively small area. There’s a mosque, a temple, a gurdwara and a church, all within a few hundred meters from each other. There was not even a hint of “intolerance” that we could see or feel. The crowded street markets were full of people busy living their daily lives and who appeared to be least concerned about the religious affiliations of those around them. The driver of the tourist bus that ferried us across the city was a Sikh, his assistant was a Muslim, the tour guide was a Hindu. We, the passengers, were a mix of non-religious Hindus and Shintos. The vibrant co-existence of religions, cultures, languages and belief systems was on glorious display for all to see and experience. In all three of the cities we visited, we had the same experience. Later in the night, returning to the hotel room, I switched on the local news to watch a debate that a channel was running on the matter of “growing intolerance” in India. After watching the debate for about 15 minutes, I chose to switch off the TV with an overwhelming sense of disappointment. Disappointment in the way a bunch of disillusioned “journalists” and “social experts” hijacked the basic definition of INDIA and everything it has stood for for so many centuries. Disappointment in the fact that a certain section of India society has completely lost any essence of basic human integrity. Disappointment in our politicians who appear to have forgotten that the India that voted them into power (in the past and the present) was not a Hindu India or a Muslim India or a Christian India or a Sikh India, but a HOPEFUL India that cared more about improving the quality of life for the billion plus people in the country and about creating a nation that is able to portray itself as a beacon of optimism, unity and progressiveness for the rest of the world to admire and look up to for guidance.

India’s history has been dotted with incidents that the country has no reason to be proud of. There are serious issues that continue to plague the country and these are issues that we HAVE to resolve on topmost priority. However, if, for the sake of this discussion, one were to keep those incidents aside, it becomes obvious that India has done an amazing job of staying united. A country of 1.3 billion people, countless religious beliefs and cultural variations, 29 official languages and every possible theoretical reason to fall apart with disastrous consequences, still manages to not only survive in peace as one united nation but also continues to set an outstanding example for other countries to follow. Anyone who cribs about how horrible India has become should take a pause and reflect on how far India has come in the last 60+ years. Let’s not forget that this is a country which has gone through a prolonged period of foreign rule during which time, the British made every possible attempt to shred the country’s core identity to pieces. The main reason why they succeeded in holding on to India for so long was the use of the “divide and rule” philosophy. As the freedom fighters broke down that strategy, the British grip on India weakened and ultimately resulted in their exit from the country. Even at that time, India’s freedom was not won by people from one religion, but by brave individuals who subscribed to different religious beliefs but identified themselves as proud and strong Indians. Over the years, I have observed certain groups with vested interests making attempts to play the religion card or the cast card or the region card or the language card for political gains. The media, by giving these destructive and divisive forces opportunities to get into the limelight, do a gross disservice to the nation. The India I know and care about and relate to does not belong to that category. And while there are incidents of hatred and mindless violence, the problem cannot be so broadly generalized so as to declare that India is an intolerant country. I am not saying India is perfect. There are a whole lot of problems that need to be rectified. But India was, is and shall always be one of the most diverse and accommodating nations one can ever live in.

Now, this entire controversy surrounding what an actor said is such a waste of time. It appears that of all the issues that the social networks should be buzzing about, the most important topic is an actor’s comment about what his wife said to him!

Really… the India I know and want to relate to is the India that talks about evolving as a modern civilization, where women and children can live without fear, where the rich and powerful don’t get away with serious crimes, where the poor and helpless don’t continue to live in misery, where divisive forces are not allowed to discriminate based on religion or caste or gender or region, where corruption is dealt with no matter who the people involved are, where those who risk their lives every day to keep us safe are given the benefits they deserve, where the focus is on education, inclusive growth and a mindset of being a united India. I have lived outside India long enough to develop an external perspective and what I see is a country that repeatedly starts a movement towards something positive and constructive and then loses focus due to some wayward and completely irrelevant diversion. You may hate me for this post, but believe me, if we put aside our petty squabbles over what one person in a country of 1.3 billion said, and talk more about what we can do to fix the more important problems that hold our amazing country back, India would truly be what we all wish it to be, and a whole lot more.

And by the way, those hypocrites who are returning their awards as a token of protest, next time a girl gets raped or a small child walks up to your car begging for money or a soldier dies fighting a terrorist, please show your faces on public forums and register your “frustration” and “protest” with greater sincerity and don’t return to your page 3 lives till you have made a difference. Use your influence, if you have any, to bring about positive transformations, instead of serving vested interests.

To everyone who really cares about being Indian, can we get back to some real conversations please?

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